Saturday, November 13, 2010


1,111th post. No cause for celebration.

"The real troubles of your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday." - Mary Schmich, from the 1997 Chicago Tribune column "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young"

For the second time in two weeks, I took B.C. to the vet expecting something routine, something predictable and manageable, and brought away with me the probability that he cannot continue to live.

He was recovering beautifully, purring recklessly, playful (inasmuch as he has ever been active), pink and alive. He showed a lot of interest in food (although I admit to tempting him with everything from scrambled eggs to feta cheese and black beans to baked salmon to liver-based Fancy Feast gravy slurries to Cat Sip cat milk to ham and beef baby food), despite never being able to eat much at one time. He didn't seem to be gaining weight, and I feared he was losing. The incision healed without incident, no swelling, bleeding, or leaking, and he showed no interest in it, so we risked leaving the Cone of Shame off since, as all pet owners know, it's utterly discouraging and frustrating to an animal and I feared he would hurt himself running into objects or falling off the bed or couch.

Once off the antibiotics and pain killers, he seemed to be gaining ground, and I hoped his appetite would improve. It didn't. So we made the appointment to get his stitches out and see what else could be going on. The surgeon grilled me and listened and palpitated to her heart's content and decided he might have an intestinal blockage... could we run some X-rays? Of course.

I waited for two hours, admiring cats and dogs that were in for everything from routine shots to hip replacements. One lovely Sheltie actually had no hip sockets. A boisterous yellow Lab had an oozing raw hole in his side the size of a chicken egg. A chocolate Dachshund named Tootsie needed dental work. I spent most of the time with an overweight Doberman named Maxx, who needed his expensive meds regulated. Congestive heart failure, pendulous growths. A pit-boxer mix wanted to play with every other dog in sight, including a golden retriever and his partner, a gorgeous Aussie with shiny, flowing locks. I sat with the sun on my back, making shade for Maxx. Then the tech invited me back.

The intestinal blockage turned out to be fecal matter, but something else showed up in the X-ray. A mass in the chest cavity, clearly pressing on the esophagus. It was visible in the post-op X-ray but was masquerading as a collapsed lung so wasn't identifiable as a potential problem. It could be a twisted lung lobe, a lung tumor, a free tumor, an interstitial tumor in the fatty tissue around the heart. The only way to tell what exactly and whether or not it's operable is a $1,500 CT scan (CAT scan, HA!). The surgery, if it's operable, would be around $4,000. (They go high on the estimates... the first surgery was predicted to cost $3,500 and turned out to be $2,700. We've done $400 worth of X-rays since the beginning.) I asked to bring him home for the weekend to think about it.

Meanwhile, B.C. continues to be his affectionate, debonaire self, purring and lolling, in my lap most of the time. He eats a little, preferably from my hand. But he is not well. He's as tall and long as ever, but painfully thin, bony, ropy. His walk is unsteady, his expression occasionally unsettled. If he's not sleeping on my lap or in the block of sun by the sliding glass doors, he's under a chair on in a corner or in his bed on the hearth.

It isn't the money... it's all the uncertainty, and the thought of making him suffer anything more than what he's already been through. If we did the CT scan and they found an inoperable tumor, they'd want to do chemo. I wouldn't do that to him. (It's hard enough on humans, who understand why they're being made to suffer.) If it is an operable twisted lung lobe or lung tumor, there would be surgery, and he would live another two years at the most (the surgeon was quite clear), unless something else came up (at this point? Probable). Whatever it is, it won't go away on its own, and even if it occasionally shifts and stops constricting the esophagus, he can't live like that.

I can hardly bear the thought of my life without him in it. I'd hate for anyone to have cause to judge me for not being willing to spend endless amounts just for the chance at a little more time, when it may not even be quality time for him. He's had about 12 wonderful years, spoiled and beloved, admired, needed, wanted. In my hands and in my house, he's suffered no abuse, no neglect, no terror, no starvation. Which is more than can be said for a sad percentage of cats and dogs in this world. I wanted 20 years. I also hate the thought of watching him age and the eventual end I won't be able to prevent. My wise cousin Roger posted on my troubled Facebook status, "You are his Power of Attorney - he chose you because he knows he can trust you. Do what he tells you even if it isn't what you want. " And he's right. I desperately wish he could have passed gently in his sleep and I wasn't faced with this choice.

I'm traveling extensively for work the next two weeks... neither Brent or I will be around to spoon-feed him every few hours, syringe milk and water into him to stave off dehydration. He'll suffer. His organs may fail. So that is where things stand... I'm going to call his regular vet Monday and see what she says. If she agrees it's probably best, I'll ask if she can put him to sleep at home. We're only a few blocks from the clinic.

I'll keep you posted, and I'd love your thoughts.


Blogger mister anchovy said...

Very tough decision. It's really hard to know what the right thing to do is, and most vets won't offer much advice. I'm sure whatever you do, it will be thoughtfully and with compassion.

November 14, 2010 at 8:30 AM  

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